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Geopolitics

Romania to Procure Norwegian F-16s at An Affordable Price [COMMENTARY]

Norwegian F-16AM and F-16BM.
Photo. Alan Wilson (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Norway and Romania concluded a sales agreement on 4th November, regarding the F-16AM/BM fighter aircraft. The above refers to 32 jets that would triple Romanian combat aviation’s potential. The Norwegians sold their jets at a price point that could be seen as attractive.

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The contract that Romania has negotiated since 2021 (when the Norwegians decided to decommission their F-16s) has a value of USD 385 million. This amount is much lower than USD 450 million - and that was the sum discussed in springtime this year. The jets would be delivered in 2023 and 2024, with a majority of deliveries scheduled to happen in 2024. The delay stems from the fact that the agreement, apart from the airframes, also includes spares, ground support equipment, maintenance services, and training for the Romanian ground crews. The price also includes the M6.5.2 upgrade, so that the Norwegian F-16 AM/BM jets match the 17 Vipers that Romania already operates.

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The price of less than USD 400 million (with extra bundles included) seems to be fairly attractive today. The Norwegian F-16s were commissioned between 1980 and 1984, however, despite their age, they are considered to have been well maintained, due to high maintenance standards adopted by RNoAF. The Norwegians also expressed their satisfaction that the jets would reinforce the allied air force. They claim that the upgrade/training package that Kongsberg Aviation Maintenance Services has been responsible for, would also contribute to the development of the local aerospace and defence industry.

Romania has been struggling to create a decent F-16 fleet for a decade now. Back in July 2013 an EUR 186 million worth tripartite contract was signed between Portugal, the US, and Romania, USD 78 million was used to cover the acquisition of 9 Portuguese F-16AM/BM airframes and three F-16A/Bs from the Davis-Monthan AFB AMARC facility, and the remainder was used to cover the overhaul and upgrades of those jets, up to the Block 40 MLU standard.

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The work was performed at the OGMA Indústria Aeronáutica de Portugal SA facility. Romania also procured several navigation/targeting pods, and ground support equipment pieces, and decided to modernize the infrastructure for those aircraft. This entailed expenditure of USD 440 million. These funds were used to tailor three Romanian Airbases: Fetesti, Campa Turzii, and Buzuau. Back then the infrastructure was tailored to host the target number of several jets.

The deliveries have been completed in 4 years. 9 ex-Portuguese jets were handed off to the customer in the autumn of 2016. In September 2017 they were joined by aircraft from Arizona, that had to undergo complex retrofitting.

In 2020 the Romanians also managed to procure another 5 Portuguese F-16s that, with analogous upgrades implemented at OGMA, and a support package, came for USD 130 million. The last one of those aircraft came to Romania in 2021, adding to the total number of 17 jets. The present procurement would expand the fleet to 49 aircraft, being a quantitative counterpart of the Polish F-16 inventory. Poland operates far more modern Block 52+ jets, while the Romanian Vipers are expected to receive just the Block 40 upgrades. The cost of the Romanian procurement has been much lower though, at a price of diminished combat capabilities. They also would have a shorter life expectancy. The Romanians expect their Vipers to serve 10 years or more. Following that period, the F-16s are to be replaced by the 5th-gen. MRCA, most probably the F-35A.

Norway has been operating 60 F-16AM/BM jets that have been replaced by 42 F-35A Lightning IIs. Oslo is not ruling out a scenario in which more F-35s are acquired. Before concluding the Romanian deal, Norway also sold 12 F-16s to Draken International, a private business maintaining aggressor squadrons.

Apart from the F-16s, the Romanians still operate 16 obsolete MiG-21 LanceRs. They are to be decommissioned in the spring of 2023.

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